3D movies creating 3D waste (Apr10)

I loved the film Avatar – particularly the strong environmental message running through it. I saw the 3D version in Yeovil, with my sons, Rollo and Monty. They were equally enamoured. In fact, Rollo thought it was the best film he’d ever seen.

But, we went home clutching three pairs of 3D glasses. There weren’t any bins at the cinema to re-use or recycle them – they were just handed out without instructions. I wondered about the waste this was creating. I’ve now found out. If the 42.1 million pairs of 3D glasses used to watch Avatar were laid end-to-end, they’d stretch 3,987 miles.

Even worse, now that 3D films are becoming more popular. Avatar has been followed by another 3D blockbuster – Alice in Wonderland. And there are more to follow. Then there’s home 3D systems too coming onto the market. Apparently just shipping 10 million 3D glasses around the world results in emissions comparable to 917 barrels of oil.

My other son, Connor, was equally enamoured with Avatar. But he told me that in the cinema where he watched it, they had recycling bins for the glasses. Cinemas then sterilise them in industrial dishwashers, before they’re used again by other customers. Imax claims its glasses can be washed up to 500 times, which means they’ll last 3-4 months, before being thrown away.

This might sound OK, but actually it uses a significant amount of both energy and water and I wonder if it’s really necessary. After all, we sit on train or bus seats that other people have sat on before – even loo seats. They’re not sterilised after each use. If anyone is worried by re-wearing 3D glasses that someone else has worn, they can always wipe them with a hankerchief. But it’s probably against our over-zealous health and safety legislation.

Now it’s being suggested that these glasses should made from biodegradable or compostable bioplastics. It’s so frustrating that people have this nonsensical idea that anything biodegradable is eco-friendly. What it would mean is that the glasses would be a one-view wonder before being chucked away. Very few would end up in a compost heap. Even if they did, you have to think of the energy and resources used to make and transport them. And those that end up in a landfill site like 80% of our domestic waste, would be releasing greenhouse gases as they rot. That doesn’t make any sense.

I think the best practical option would be for people to take their glasses home and re-use them for any future 3D movies. But this wouldn’t be so good if you lose the glasses or don’t remember to take them to the cinema next time you go. So perhaps the wash and throw approach, increasingly offered by cinemas with recycling bins for 3D glasses, is the most practical option.

I haven’t yet seen the 2010 3D version of Alice in Wonderland. I’m going to hunt for the glasses lying around the house and make sure I have them with me. I think I should also be asking the Yeovil Odeon to start a recycling scheme. If they get going on the glasses, they might start recycling the packaging on their over-priced popcorn and fizzy drinks too.

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